HOUSTON -- Despite using less gasoline in 2011, U.S. drivers still spent more on fuel than they did the previous year, according to market research firm The NPD Group. Its Motor Fuels Index, which tracks motor fuel purchasing behaviors and attitudes, found that U.S. consumers spent 24 percent more dollars on 1.7 percent fewer gallons of fuel last year, resulting in an additional $76 billion being spent on fuel vs. 2010.
Results of NPD's 2011 Motor Fuels Index were similar to 2008, when the national average price for a gallon of gasoline stayed above $3 for 12 months (November 2007 to October 2008) and the number of miles driven dropped by 55 billion. In December 2010, the average price per gallon rose above $3 again and has never dropped below it since; drivers cut back an additional 36 billion miles through December 2011.
"Consumers continue to modify driving patterns to purchase fewer gallons, but it isn't enough to offset price increases at the pump," said David Portalatin, motor fuels analyst at The NPD Group. "There's no doubt that the consumer is losing share of wallet at the pump despite trying to reduce consumption."
The extra money going toward fuel takes away from funds available to spend on other things, Portalatin added. NPD's Convenience Store Monitor, which tracks the purchasing behavior of more than 51,000 U.S. c-store shoppers, found that total convenience store traffic declined by 4 percent in 2011. Oil company-branded outlets that depend on fuel to bring in customers suffered more, while retailers that offer more food and beverage choices did better.
NPD's Motor Fuels Index findings through March 2012 show that consumers have continued to cut back another 1 percent on gallon purchases, but spent 9 percent more on gasoline than they did during the same time period a year ago.
"Gas prices have continued to increase into the spring of 2012 with more increases expected," Portalatin said. "And while seeing $3 plus on the pump is no longer the shock it once was, there is still only so much money in the wallet, and something will need to give in order to fill the tank."